Callaway County youngsters on their way to Monday morning story time at the Callaway County Public Library had a surprise when they were greeted by Desi, a standard poodle therapy dog brought to the library by Judy Harris of River Poodles in New Bloomfield.
Youngsters took turns reading to Desi, a white male standard poodle, and later to Moni, a black female standard poodle brought into the library after Desi left.
Both dogs are trained therapy dogs.
Even though youngsters eagerly clamored around them, both dogs remained calm and relaxed around the children.
Harris is a member of the Show Me Agility Club of Central Missouri, an organization that started therapy dog visits to libraries.
"This allows children to brush up on their reading skills and at the same time enjoy the company of therapy dogs," Harris said.
One of the youngsters who read to Desi was Abram Snider. His father, Shawn Snider, brought his son to the library.
"The therapy dog was a welcome surprise to me. I brought Abram to the library for the story hour and the chance to read to the therapy dog was a bonus. The kids really enjoy this experience," Snider said.
"In addition to libraries," Harris said, "I take the therapy dogs to nursing homes and to unrestricted areas of hospitals."
Harris said during a recent trip to a library in Columbia the youngsters had received an assignment to write a story. "When we got there," Harris said, "they had an opportunity to read the story they wrote to Desi and Moni."
Therapy dogs are also a big hit in nursing homes. Many patients have not had a recent opportunity to interact with and pet a dog.
Nursing home or hospital patients who cannot be reached by traditional forms of therapy, or have lost the motivation they need to continue a long rehabilitation process, often can be reached by therapy dogs who trigger sentiments not expressed by the patient for long periods of time.
By fostering the unique animal-human bond in a healing process, therapy dogs can motivate participants to continue working toward their goals of improved physical and mental health.
Harris also conducts obedience and agility training for dogs. She also can teach youngsters how to interact with dogs.
"Youngsters should learn the proper way to greet a dog. If the dog appears to be friendly," Harris said, "youngsters should let the dog come to them. They should hold out a hand and allow the dog to sniff it. When they reach to pet the dog, it's always best not to try to pet the animal on the top of his head because the hand would obscure the vision of the dog. It's better to scratch the dog under the neck so he can watch what you are doing. Staying calm around dogs also is important."
Desi and Moni also can perform to demonstrate their many talents. Desi plays the piano with his nose and Moni is able to maneuver a basketball through a hoop.
Harris said therapy dogs must pass a rigid test administered by the Canine Therapy Corps.
Harris said she has been involved in training therapy dogs for about nine years.
Harris also teaches a class in canine nose work. Dogs are trained to identify certain odors. Trainers place essential oils of birch, anise and clove in boxes and dogs are trained to sniff them out. They also are trained to identify combinations of scent.
"Desi is an American Kennel Club champion tracker. She is only the fourth standard poodle to receive this title," Harris said.